Aged care peak body Leading Age Services Australia has called on the Federal Government to work with the residential aged care sector to ensure workers are vaccinated.

The call comes as six aged residents and four staff have tested positive to date at SummitCare’s aged care home in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills, which reported a third of staff were vaccinated before the outbreak, however that figure has since been revised up to about half.

It follows last week’s announcement that National Cabinet agreed to make it mandatory for residential aged care workers to have a vaccine to continue working in the sector after provider reporting showed less than a third of staff were vaccinated.

The deadline for a first dose is 17 September, a spokesperson from the Department of Health confirmed to Australian Ageing Agenda on Tuesday.

Sean Rooney

LASA CEO Sean Rooney said the government needed to urgently act to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine to aged care staff.

“We urge the government to work with the aged care sector to vaccinate workers as effectively, efficiently and safely as possible,” Mr Rooney told AAA.

The vaccine should be provided to staff on-site at their workplace, he said.

“We would like the government to allow for a national program of in-reach vaccination clinics on site for aged care staff.

“Given the current situation in [New South Wales] we would have liked this to have happened months ago,” Mr Rooney said.

Aged care CEOs told AAA last week they welcomed the vaccine being mandatory but said workers should receive the jab on-site at their place of work.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil is also calling on the government to prioritise vaccinations for aged care staff ahead of the general public. 

“Plans to vaccinate aged care workers in their workplaces were completely abandoned. These workers should have been fully vaccinated by April of this year. The Morrison Government must urgently finish the job of vaccinating aged and disability care staff,” Ms O’Neil said in a statement.

Michele O’Neil

“We are yet again seeing the dangers of insecure work: overworked and underpaid aged care workers are having to work across different sites to make ends meet and are now being forced to get vaccinated on their own watch, out of their own pocket,” she said.

If the government fails to ensure aged care staff are vaccinated by mid-September, there will be workforce shortages, Ms O’Neil said.

“That is a crisis not only for the workers who will go without a pay cheque, but also for the already critically understaffed aged care facilities and their vulnerable residents, who will now potentially go without the quality of care they deserve,” she said.

The health department spokesperson said “significant support” was being provided to assist workers to get vaccinated noting in-reach and pop up clinics and funding for providers.

Residential aged care workers can access a COVID-19 vaccine through on-site provider and GP-run clinics, primary care and state and territory run services and dedicated aged care worker pop up clinics in greater Sydney, the spokesperson said.

“In addition, commonwealth roving teams are returning to 235 aged care facilities in 18 local government areas in Greater Sydney to offer a COVID-19 vaccination to any residents or workers not yet vaccinated.

“Similarly, roving clinics have been deployed to aged care facilities in all Tier 1 locations in Victoria, as defined by Victorian health authorities.”

Providers can also apply for Commonwealth funding to support residential aged care workers to get vaccinated including paid sick leave for casuals under a $11 million initiative launched to coincide with the government’s announcement for mandatory vaccinations.

At 6 July,  96 per cent of facilities have reported that 98,045 workers (36 per cent of reported staff) have received a COVID-19 vaccination, a spokesperson for the health department told AAA on Wednesday morning.

That includes 51,576 workers who are fully vaccinated and 46,469 workers who have had a first dose only, which is up from a total of 90,000 or 30 per cent of reported workers last Tuesday, according to reports from 95 per cent of aged care homes.

Vaccinations at SummitCare 

At SummitCare Baulkham Hill, where the first positive case was identified in staff member on 1 July, around half of the 200 staff members have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since last Thursday, a spokesperson from SummitCare told AAA on Tuesday.

Michele Sloane

Following discussions with NSW Health, SummitCare has organised immunisation for all staff during the next two weeks, the provider’s chief operating officer Michelle Sloane told residents and their relatives in a letter sent on Tuesday.

“Our staff remain diligent with their infection control protocols. This is what has kept us safe so far and will continue to do so,” Ms Sloane said.

“There will be a number of agency workforce staff on site in the home during this time as many of our own staff were identified immediately as potential close contacts and have been required to be tested and isolated for 14 days at home,” she said.

SummitCare not accountable for outbreak, says family member

Michelle Kenney, the daughter of a SummitCare Baulkham Hills resident, praised the provider and staff at the home.

“Michelle Sloane and the staff of SummitCare have done an amazing job keeping residents safe and giving access for direct communication between residents and loved ones as much as possible,” Ms Kenney said in a statement.

“These are stressful times for everyone, and we all have our own opinions about what should or should not be happening, but we can not hold SummitCare accountable for the current outbreak,” she said.

This story has been updated with new information from the Department of Health on Wednesday.

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